Portsmouth-based Royal Navy team takes control of unmanned minesweeper which will clear fishing lanes of bombs

An autonomous minesweeper system that can safely clear sea lanes of mines has been handed over to the Royal Navy
An autonomous minesweeper system that can safely clear sea lanes of mines has been handed over to the Royal Navy
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A ROBOT designed to identify and destroy deadly underwater mines has been handed over to a Royal Navy team based in Portsmouth.

Bosses at the Royal Navy have accepted a new hi-tech minehunter that will one day be used to keep vital fishing lanes clear of lethal ordnance.

The £13m search-and-destroy vessel has been handed over Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MASTT), based at the Portsmouth Naval Base, who will put the system through its paces.

Defence minister Guto Bebb said the new tech will be a vital addition to the future arsenal of the Royal Navy’s fleet.

He said: ‘This autonomous minesweeper takes us a step closer to taking our crews out of danger and allowing us to safely clear sea lanes of explosives, whether that’s supporting trade in global waters and around the British coastline, or protecting our ships and shores.

‘Easily transported by road, sea and air, the hi-tech design means a small team could put the system to use within hours of it arriving in theatre. We are investing millions in innovative technology now, to support our military of the future.’

The system has the ability to defeat the most modern, digital sea mines which can detect and target military ships passing overhead.

It features a ‘sense and avoid’ capability, with the Ministry of Defence hinting it could work together with other similar autonomous systems.

Over the last four months, the system has been put through its paces by the vessel’s developer Atlas Elektronik, the Defence Equipment and Support team members and the MASTT.

Brigadier Jim Morris Royal Marines – assistant chief of the naval staff in maritime capability, and senior responsible officer for the mine counter measures and hydrographic capability programme – said the new system was a ‘critical component’ of the navy’s mine countermeasure capability.

He said: ‘This autonomous sweep system represents a fundamental step in the navy’s transition to autonomous offboard systems to counter the threat posed to international shipping by the sea mine; we look forward to commencing demonstration of the associated minehunting system in 2019.’

Although MASTT and the Royal Navy’s minehunting fleet are based in Portsmouth, a spokeswoman from the Senior Service said no decision had been made on where the autonomous system would be permanently located.

Neal Lawson, director ships support at the MoD’s procurement organisation, Defence Equipment and Support, said: ‘The autonomous minesweeper offers a commander the ability to defeat mines that cannot be countered by current hunting techniques and significantly reduces the risk to crew members in pressured and time-constrained operations.

‘The system can offer greater flexibility and upgradability, allowing the Royal Navy to respond better to the sea-mine threat in the long-term and operate more effectively around the world.’

The system is due to tackle further tests and trials with the navy in Scotland.